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Ireland's banned publications

Did You Know?

Four winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature and Irish writers including Kate O’Brien, Seán O’Faolain, Oliver St. John Gogarty and Liam O’Flaherty were on the list of prohibited publications.  Here are some banned publications that you might be surprised at.


Mary Lavelle by Kate O'Brien

In 1947, Kate O’Brien wrote to the Minister of Justice, Gerald Boland, to request the release of three copies of her book Mary Lavelle (1936). The book was banned in Ireland because of its subject matter – the female protagonist’s affair with a married man.  O’Brien had requested three copies from her publisher in the UK to be delivered to her home in Limerick, but they were intercepted by the Censorship of Publication Boards. Her way with words obviously worked, as she received a reply from the Department allowing the import of the three copies of her prohibited publication.


The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas, Sylvia Plath’s novel was banned in Ireland.


The Ginger Man by J.P Donleavy

Published in Paris in 1955 and banned in Ireland and US due to ‘obscenity’. The ban was lifted in 1968 and the novel has gone on to sell 45 million copies. 


The Borstal Boy by Brendan Behan

Banned in 1958. The Irish Censorship of Publications Board was not obliged to reveal its reason but it is believed that it was rejected for its critique of Irish republicanism and the Catholic Church, and its depiction of adolescent sexuality. 


The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Censorship of Publications Board in the Republic of Ireland banned this coming of age novel in 1951 for its obscene content which include profanity, sexual scenes and blasphemy. 


Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

This was banned in 1932 upon its release in Ireland for being anti-religion and its criticism of the traditional family.


And finally...or maybe not


Ulysses by James Joyce.

This book that boasts an annual celebration wasn’t always so universally loved and revered, as it was banned in the United States for over a decade, and in the United Kingdom until the 1930s. The Sunday Express called Ulysses “the most infamously obscene book in ancient or modern literature.”

Contrary to popular belief, it was never ‘officially’ banned in Ireland, but it was never actually put on sale, as copies of the book seemingly didn’t make it through customs.



A History of censorship in Ireland

The Committee of Enquiry on Evil Literature

The Committee was appointed by the Minister for Justice, Kevin O’Higgins, on 12 February 1926 to consider and report whether it is necessary or advisable in the interest of the public morality to extend the existing powers of the State to prohibit or restrict the sale and circulation of printed matter.

It consisted of two laymen and two clergymen (one Roman Catholic and one Church of Ireland). They heard submissions from individuals, institutions, social organisations and religious organisations.

This included the Irish Christian Brothers; Irish Vigilance Association; Dublin Branch, Irish National Teachers’ Organisation; Catholic Headmasters’ Association; Catholic Writers’ Guild; Dublin Christian Citizenship Council; Catholic Truth Society; Marian Sodalities of Ireland; Charles Eason of Eason & Son Ltd.; James Hart and D. Bridgman, Irish Retail Newsagents’, Booksellers’ and Stationers’ Association; J. Booth, Assistant Secretary, Department of Posts and Telegraphs; J. Redmond, Superintending Inspector of Customs and Excise; Edward Coogan, Deputy Commissioner, Garda Síochána; Rev R.S. Devane, S.J.

The archives (JUS 7/2 National Archives of Ireland) also contain files relating to the contributions of the Church of Ireland, the Methodist and Presbyterian churches, and the Jewish community.  The report of the Committee was submitted to the Minister for Justice on 28 December 1926. It contained eight recommendations which included a wider interpretation to the terms indecent and obscene.  They also recommended that the sale and circulation of books, magazines and pamphlets advocating the unnatural prevention of conception be made illegal, except to authorised persons and be punishable by adequate penalties.

 Evil Literature Report Complaint





Censorship of Publications Act, 1929

Under the Censorship of Publications Act, 1929 the Minister for Justice was empowered to set up a censorship board of five, who were to hold office for three years. To ban a book three board members had to be in agreement.

The Board recommended to the Minister the permanent prohibition of any book or periodical it deemed to be in its ‘general tendency indecent or obscene’, or if it advocated contraception or abortion.

The Board also had a duty to compile a list of banned books and periodicals and to make it available for public inspection. This was done by publishing the list in Iris Oifigiúil (Irish State Gazette).

 Censorship Act 1929 List of Banned Publications 1940

Censorship of Publications Act, 1946

Under the 1929 Act, the Board had to find a book obscene in ‘its general tendency’, before issuing a ban. These words were omitted in the 1946 legislation.

The 1946 Act also gave the Board power to ban the books themselves. Previous to this the Board submitted its list of books to the Minister with recommendations that they should be banned.

A right of appeal was also introduced. An appeal against a prohibition could be made by the author, editor or publisher, or any five persons who were members of Dáil Éireann or Seanad.

By 1956 the work of four winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature and Irish writers including Kate O’Brien, Seán O’Faolain, Oliver St. John Gogarty and Liam O’Flaherty appeared on the list of prohibited publications.

Between 1946 and 1955, 250 appeals were brought to The Appeal Board of which 220 were successful. This included Grahame Greene’s novels The Heart of the Matter and The End of the Affair.

Censorship of Publications Act, 1967

In 1967 the Minister for Justice, Brian Lenihan, introduced legislation that allowed a prohibition order made on the ground that a book deemed indecent or obscene would expire after twelve years, rather than remain in place indefinitely. The Act allowed the immediate sale of over 5,000 previously banned books.

The Health (Family Planning) Act, 1979 amended the legislation in regard to publications advocating the unnatural prevention of conception. The Regulation of Information (Services outside the State for Termination of Pregnancies) Act, 1995 amended the legislation in regard to publications containing lawfully available information relating to the termination of pregnancy outside the state. However, no publications that advocated or promoted abortions were permitted.

References to abortion were removed from the Censorship Act in 2018 by amendment as a result of the referendum on the Eighth Amendment.

 List of Banned Publications 1967 Censorship Act 1967

Censorship of Publications Board

Currently censorship of publications is governed by legislation and administered by two voluntary boards appointed by the Minister for Justice.

The Censorship of Publications Board may prohibit by way of a Prohibition Order the sale and distribution of books and periodicals if they are found to be indecent or obscene. The Chairperson and members of the Board are appointed by the Minister for Justice. The Censorship of Publications Board is independent of the Minister in exercising its functions and the Minister does not have any power to alter their decisions.

The Censorship of Publications Appeal Board was established under Section 3 of the Censorship of Publications Act 1946.

The Appeal Board may on appeal, affirm or revoke a Prohibition Order in respect of a book or periodical publication. It may also vary the Order so as to exclude from the application any particular edition of that prohibited book or periodical publication.

It is anticipated that the legislation governing this area will be reviewed in the future.